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Is patient safety in the NHS in England a postcode lottery?

26 March 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 6


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses some recent patient safety publications from the World Health Organization and the Care Quality Commission

On a flight, there is generally no doubt in passengers' minds that they will arrive safely at their destination—air accidents are extremely rare. However, when it comes to healthcare treatment it is difficult to have the same level of confidence in outcome. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a ‘fact file’ on patient safety, which begins with the following statement:

‘Patient safety is a serious global public health concern. It is estimated that there is a 1 in 3 million risk of dying while travelling by aeroplane. In comparison, the risk of patient death occurring due to a preventable medical accident, while receiving health care, is estimated to be 1 in 300.’

It makes the point that industries with a perceived higher risk, aviation and nuclear industries, have a much better safety record than health care. From a global perspective, WHO (2019) says adverse events as a result of unsafe care are likely to be in the top 10 causes of death and disability.

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